NewsBriefs BUTTONS

General Barry R. McCaffrey Sworn in as New Drug Czar


March 1996

On February 29, 1996, General Barry R. McCaffrey was sworn in as the new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 27, McCaffrey pledged to increase coordination and cooperation among various law enforcement bodies on the local, state, and federal level. "If confirmed by the Senate, I can assure you that we, the senior officials of the government, will work together to forge a coherent strategy and in a responsive manner to Congressional viewpoints," McCaffrey told the Committee (Christopher S. Wren, "General Urges Drug Problem To Be Treated Like a Cancer," New York Times, February 28, 1996, p. A13).

Before McCaffrey could speak, he listened to a half hour of Congressional speeches on the drug war. Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) decried President Clinton's "abdication of responsibility" exemplified by a cut in the Department of Defense interdiction budget by more than half, from $854 million in FY 1992 to $395 million in FY 1995. Sen. Hatch claimed that "since the President took office, our nation has experienced a 53% drop in our ability to interdict and push back drug shipments in the transit zone. This has coincided with increased purity of drugs on the street, record low prices, sharply increased drug use among young people, and the highest-ever levels of overdoses among hard-core users."

Senator Joseph R. Biden (D-DE), the ranking Democrat, accused Presidents Clinton and Bush of doing a "disservice in this war on drugs" by downgrading the drug czar's office. Biden urged McCaffrey to resign in he didn't get the full support of President Clinton, and he promised to stand with McCaffrey at a press conference to announce such a resignation. Biden said the war on drugs must be fought in the streets of every community.

Biden called for more swift and tough punishment for hard-core drug addicts. He said each of the 2.6 million hard-core addicts commits an average of 175 crimes per year. [That totals 455 million crimes per year. The FBI reported a total of 14.6 million arrests for all crimes in 1994. The National Crime Victimization Survey reported 43.5 million crimes of all types in 1993.] Biden pleaded with McCaffrey not to study the problem, "Just act, just get going. We don't need any more studies."

McCaffrey called the phrase "War on Drugs" "inadequate" to describe the public health problem created by drug abuse. "Dealing with the problem of illegal drug abuse is more akin to dealing with cancer," he said. "Wars are relatively straightforward. You identify the enemy, select a general, assign him a mission and resources, and let him get the job done. In this struggle against drug abuse, there is no silver bullet, no quick way to reduce drug use or the damage it causes."

He told the Committee that dealing with drug abuse requires a "systems-based approach and a long-term commitment." "Treatment, prevention, education, enforcement, and interdiction must all be synergistic components of that policy," he said. McCaffrey said he plans to completely revamp the office.

McCaffrey, a 29-year Army veteran, has been the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) in Panama since February 1994. SOUTHCOM is the branch of the military responsible for coordinating counter-drug operations in Central and South American countries. McCaffrey will retire from the Army to take the director's office.

He has also served as the Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was the commander of the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division during Desert Storm. He has also served in a combat capacity in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. He has been awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.

[After preliminary misgivings, I am optimistic that General McCaffrey will be a better Director of Drug Policy than any of his predecessors. Friends of mine who know McCaffrey and have worked with him praise highly his intelligence, his candor, his energy, and his bravery. He does not bring the politicians' addiction to maintain an unworkable approach if it supports a political agenda. If we believe reform is rational, and emphasizing treatment and prevention is rational, this "drug czar" has the greatest potential to bring constructive leadership to drug policy since Dr. Willis P. Butler opened Narcotics Clinics in Shreveport, LA.--EES]

[For a complete bio of General McCaffrey or more information about the February 27 hearing, contact the NewsBriefs office.]